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Spike’s Big Night: A Short Story (Part 2)

May 24, 2011

[Click here to read Part 1.]

They arrived at the Dorothy Chandler a little after five. Spike took a deep breath, grabbed his camera, said goodbye to the driver (who wished him luck, though Spike couldn’t tell if he was being sincere or not), and exited the limo. In contrast to the relative quiet of the car ride, Spike now found himself in the eye of a Hollywood maelstrom: blinding searchlights, flickering camera flashes, screaming fans in bleachers, an endless line of reporters hounding an endless line of celebrities proceeding down the red carpet. Like being thrown into a pool, it took Spike several moments to acclimate to the atmospheric temperature change. But once he did, he started walking toward the eye of the storm, bracing himself for the red carpet madness. To his surprise, he even experienced a moment of euphoria. A smile flickered on his face, and he waved at a section of fans up in the bleachers. He knew many of these people had camped out here since last night to catch a glimpse of their favorite stars. Spike hadn’t gone into filmmaking to become a celebrity, but even he could be occasionally intoxicated by its charms and temporary ego-boosts: who doesn’t enjoy stepping out of a limo to be greeted with cheers and screams from adoring fans. Buoyed by the audible responses his attention elicited—“Hey, hon, look: he’s waving at us!”—he continued to smile and wave. If people had spied him from a distance, they never would’ve suspected this was the man responsible for the angriest, most controversial film of the year. That’s Spike Lee? The angry black director? But look at him. He looks so nice. So personable. So unthreatening.

Suddenly, in the midst of his euphoria, a thought overtook Spike: these people weren’t his fans. These people who’d driven here from as far as Madison, Wisconsin and who’d waited all night in those uncomfortable metal bleachers weren’t here to see Spike Lee. They were here to see Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson and Robin Williams. He was just a stand-in for these people’s stargazing until the celebrities they’d actually come to see had arrived. His smile faded a little, but he maintained his cool and regained his focus: What’s wrong with you, fool?! You didn’t come here to have your ego stroked by a bunch of cheering (white) fans. You came here to win an Oscar. Eyes on the prize, Spike. Keep your eyes on the prize. 

Spike started down the red carpet, fielding unimaginative questions from reporters, wishing he didn’t have to be so damn diplomatic. If I don’t win? Well, I guess I’ll just do what Mookie did in the movie and throw a garbage can on stage and start a riot. Along the way, he ran into Denzel Washington. Unlike Spike, who’d come by himself, Denzel had made the awards a family affair, bringing his wife and mother. Denzel was a nominee for Best Supporting Actor for Glory, which meant he was competing against Danny Aiello for Do the Right Thing…which meant, from a certain vantage point, Spike and Denzel were competing against each other. A situation made all the more complicated by the fact that Denzel and Spike were currently shooting a movie together (Mo’ Better Blues) in New York.

“One of us better leave here with an Oscar,” Denzel quipped. 

“True that. Question is: which one will it be?”

Denzel smiled. “No offense, Spike, but I know who I’m pulling for.”

They laughed, hugged, and wished each other good luck, the moment not entirely free of competitive machismo. Spike felt a conflict of allegiances. He wanted Aiello to win (a win for him was a win for the film), but he didn’t want him to win over Denzel, a good friend and brilliant actor, not to mention a fellow brotha’. However, according to those people who make it their business to know such things, that wasn’t going to happen: Denzel was the favorite to win. Spike had made peace with this potential outcome—and in many ways was secretly happy about it, since when it came to politics, Spike (a Democrat) and Aiello (a Republican) didn’t see eye-to-eye, to say the least. Just the same, Spike didn’t want Do the Right Thing to get shut out completely. Which meant only one thing: he had to win.

While on the red carptet, Spike also walked past Oscar-nominee Morgan Freeman, who was in the middle of being interviewed by a French reporter. “Well, of course, as an actor, it’s something you dream about all the time. But when you’re actually here, you’re still in shock. It’s like you can’t really believe it.” Spike and Freeman briefly made eye-contact–a tense, frosty recognition of the other person’s presence–but didn’t exchange words. Spike had nothing against Freeman personally. He respected Freeman as an actor, and was especially impressed with his work in Glory, alongside Denzel. However, it was Freeman’s other movie that year, the movie for which he was nominated for Best Actor, that made Spike’s blood boil: Driving Miss Daisy (the title of which Spike couldn’t think about without adding a certain expletive between the words “Miss” and “Daisy”). The story of the friendship between a white Jewish Southern woman and her black chauffeur had become the feel-good movie of the year, as well as a favorite to win Best Picture. It was also a film about as different from Do the Right Thing as one could imagine.

Spike publicly expressed his cynicism about the Academy’s glowing response to the film: “Morgan Freeman is a great actor, but their comfort level is higher with him driving around Miss Daisy than with Mookie throwing a garbage can through Sal’s Pizzeria.”

The timing of the film’s release also intensified Spike’s bitterness. Of all the years for Driving Miss Daisy to come out. It was as if the studios has intentionally released an alternative to Do the Right Thing for the white viewing public.

Hey, folks – are you depressed and confused after having seen Do the Right Thing? Come see Driving Miss Daisy, a movie where whites and blacks really do get along!

It was the “race movie” everybody seemed to love—which was why Spike hated it. (Of course, he would’ve probably hated it even more if, as one potential investor in Driving Miss Daisy had first suggested, they’d turned it into an Eddie Murphy/Bette Middler vehicle.)

Freeman had made no public comment about Spike’s remarks, but from the icy look he gave him it was clear he didn’t appreciate what Spike was more or less implying: that in doing Driving Miss Daisy, he was, or had portrayed, an Uncle Tom. Freeman’s look to Spike pretty much said: Listen, Spike: your black ass just got here. I’ve been working in this town damn near thirty years. So don’t go trying to piss on my moment! With all due respect, my young brotha’: you can go to hell.

Spike didn’t know whether or not Freeman had seen Do the Right Thing, or, if he had, whether or not he’d like it, but from that brief wordless exchange he did sense one thing: he and Freeman wouldn’t be making a movie together anytime soon. 

Spike subjected himself to more interviews (including one with the same French reporter who’d interviewed Freeman), made small talk with celebrities (including Jack Nicholson, who had seen Do the Right Thing and loved it), then eventually wandered inside the auditorium and took his seat. His nemesis Steven Soderbergh—that motherfucker—was seated not too far from him. The two filmmakers traded awkward smiles, and each felt the obligation to say something to smooth out the awkwardness. But much to their relief, neither of them had time to make that gesture, for suddenly the house lights dimmed and the show got underway.  

[Stay tuned in a couple days for Part 3]

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Angie Girl permalink
    May 24, 2011 9:31 pm

    More, more. I want more.

  2. Angie Girl permalink
    May 24, 2011 9:34 pm

    BTW one has to post a comment to find out there’s a part 3. Doesnt say that on home page.

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